Flutter-Pony is an Australian author who has been writing fanfic for five years on and off. Currently, she writers primarily for Glee. Please welcome her with me.
It starts with that feeling in your tummy, little flutters of curiosity. You begin to hang on every word they speak and you see them everywhere you go. Holding hands in line at the grocery store, canoodling behind shelves at the public library. When you start calling your housemate ‘Mulder’, you know it’s gone too far but it doesn’t matter, you are in love with a love story.
You’re favourite fictional couple, or ‘Ship’ if you roll that way, can quickly become your favourite hobby, and the internet (God bless it) is bursting with fellow love junkies, desperately searching forums and chat rooms for their next hit. The network TV show, the trilogy of books, they can no longer satisfy the hunger.
Then drifting in like a love song on the breeze comes Fan Fiction. And it is glorious. Hours can be spent hunched over your laptop with starry-eyed devotion. You can see every longing glance between Jack and Kate on that deserted island, you feel every trembling touch between Booth and Bones and you know, with everything that you are, that Castle and Beckett are the end game.
Yesterday, I received a guest post relevant to the topic of summaries, which will give you all another perspective on summary writing for fanfic.
Please welcome A Starr in a Photo (ff.net) a.k.a. keraunoscopia (tumblr). A Starr writes is an American author for the Leverage, Sherlock, Bones, Castle, and Criminal Minds fandoms, and has been writing for over two years.
In most fandoms, there are three aspects to the dreaded summary: a brief description of the story, warnings, and pairings. In all, this should be less than 255 characters. It can be a bit daunting, that story you’ve just spent so long on you now have to wrap up in a few measly sentences, how could you possibly do it justice?
It’s actually not that difficult, just reorient your thinking a little bit, starting with the brief description. Keep it short. Really short. If you can, don’t go over two sentences, and if you do, they should be short and declarative. Remember that when we say summary, it’s not the same thing that you used to do in grammar school. No potential reader wants the whole low down on what is going to happen in your story, that’s why they read it.
You want your summary to intrigue people, when they read it you want them to think “oh wow, I wonder what happens.” This isn’t the inside of the dust jacket of a book, it’s shorter than that. Not that I want to give Stephanie Meyer any credit, but her little insight “Of three things I was absolutely sure…” was catchy. It left you wondering. That’s what you want to do. That’s the goal.
I threw a few topics around in my head for today’s post, but ultimately settled on one that you don’t see in published fiction, but do see quite often in fanfic. It’s also one of my biggest pet peeves with fan fiction.
Character assassination. Also called character bashing.
This most often occurs when there is a character in the way of someone’s ship. The author vilifies said character, so they can make an opening for their ship. They do this without regard to the character’s actual personality, and I think that bothers me most. Characters who don’t deserve it become ugly, cruel or stupid for no reason other than they’re dating someone the writer wants someone else to date.
Now, I’ve seen this happen in multiple fandoms. In NCIS Jeanne Benoit was turned into a nasty, even crazy murderous woman, just to get her out of the way so Tony and Ziva could get together. She wasn’t a bad person, and she was in a lot of pain from Tony’s betrayal. Now, I like the Tony/Ziva pairing, but I don’t feel compelled to assassinate another character on the show to make it work.
There are few subjects that draw more tension and hostility than shipping. Correction: there are few subjects that draw more unnecessary tension and hostility than shipping.
I believe the term shipping originated out of the X Files fandom many years ago*, as a designation of one of two fan groups. There were the Shippers, who wanted a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully, and the NoRomos, those who wanted to see only friendship between the two characters. The two groups were equally passionate, and often clashed.
Shipping has since become a term to describe a fan’s desire to see whichever couple in a work that strikes their interest. Most writers pick a few ships per show and focus on those, while others are more monogamous with their choices (like myself). I’m sure there are also writers who will ship every pairing imaginable on the show, and that’s their prerogative. That’s the wonderful thing about fanfiction, you can make anything happen or not happen as you see fit.
Writing fan fiction is not the same as writing regular fiction, even for professional fanfic writers (think the books based off TV shows). Fanfic in general is very different for two very specific reasons.
Fanfic authors have complete editorial control over their work. This does not happen in the publishing world. Both the literary agent, and the publisher who eventually picks up the novel will have much of the editorial control. Also, titles are very often changed.
Fanfic authors can’t make money off their work. We’re paid in reviews, not cash. This is great for the people reading, but I don’t imagine many of my fellow writers would turn down the opportunity to be paid for their work.
This applies to professional fanfic writers as well. These are the people who write books for Criminal Minds, Star Trek, Buffy TVS, Supernatural, Glee, CSI, Dune, Battlestar Galatica and what I imagine is many, many others. They get to make money, and are subject to the same rules as the rest of the publishing world. A side note on these to enthusiastic writers, you do not write a fanfic book and send it to a publisher/literary agent. If a network wants someone to write novels based on their show, they’ll pick an already established author and commission them to do it.
Moving onto the writing. The primary differences in writing fanfic versus original fiction are that you’ve already have characters, setting, and generally tone set for you. Tone and setting are flexible to an extent, but the characters are the reason you’re writing the story in the first place. You want to keep those characters, though you do have the freedom to choose which to focus on in your writing and how you want to develop them.
Already having characters removes a considerable chunk of the work you have to do, and if you don’t believe that, try writing a novel. I’ve done it, and trust me, developing characters is not easy and takes a considerable amount of work. By having characters already written, you know what they look like, what they sound like, how they act, nervous tics and odd mannerisms, and an entire history on which to build. Often you have a few seasons of a show, or several books or comics that have given you a clear, very distinct impression and an opportunity to sort to integrate that characters in your head. With original work, you’re starting fresh, and it’s hard to keep track of every character in a book, and make all your central players stand-out when you haven’t been with them very long.
The flipside of that though, is that you have to know someone else’s characters and do your best to stay true to those characters. I reread the X Files novels a few years ago (yes, I’m a nerd), and I was disappointed to realize that that author could have been writing about anyone. It said Mulder and Scully, but there was very little distinct about the characters in the novel, and certainly nothing that said they were Mulder and Scully. That is your challenge as a fanfic writer, to get to know someone else’s characters so well you can put them to paper in your own voice and words.
Like I said, setting can be flexible depending on the show, book or comic. Obviously if you’re writing for Star Wars, you need to set it an their universe, but you can pick which planet and even what location on which planet. In some series, like Criminal Minds, the X Files and Supernatural, the characters often travel, so you’ve got a lot of freedom. In other series, like Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, and Charmed, the location is more static, and you need to have good reason to move the story out of their city.
Tone is a little less concrete, and it often changes (and should) even within the show, book or comic, but there’s still sort of a central tone, a general feeling to it that remains the same throughout. Think of the feel of Bones or NCIS versus that of Criminal Minds or Law & Order. The former two shows have more of a fun, humorous tone to them, and while the latter both have moments of humor, they’re darker and more serious. Likewise, Bones and NCIS both have their darker, more serious moments. Fanfic writers have to stay true to this tone. Of course, like in the original work, the tone should be fluid in a story, but still hold to that overall feel.
What do you think are the major differences with fanfic and original fic? What do you think are strengths and weaknesses of fanfic?